Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


29.8.09
  Boleyn Spork

One of my favourite blogs, History Spork, is back with a take on The Other Boleyn Girl, a movie based on Philippa Gregory's novel of the same title. Since Tudor specialists don't think very highly of her research, and the movie seems to be rather close to the book, some of my readers should get a laugh out of it.

You may also check the archives of History Spork; they've taken their sharp pens ... er, keyboards to a bunch of other questionable 'historical' movies. But get some popcorn and a glass of wine, because you can easily spend a few hours there.
 


24.8.09
  Another Cool Castle - Scharzfels

Scharzfels Castle in the Harz foothills was erected to protect the nearby monastery of Pöhlde. Mathilde, the widow of Heinrich the Fowler and mother of the emperor Otto the Great, had been given Pöhlde as widow seat in 952 and it can be assumed that Scharzfels Castle was built around the same time. But the first sure proof for the existence of Scharzfels Castle is a charte dating to 1080 which names a knight Albrecht von der Helden as chatellain.

Scharzfels Castle, the dolomite rock foundation of the inner bailey

It made for another nice summer afternoon tour. It is not so hot any longer, and the two miles ascent through a beech wood made for a good, though not too stressful walk. There's a little café in the former outer bailey, so we got some ice cream and Alsterwasser (a mix of beer and lemon juice) as reward before we explored the castle.

The Gate, hewn into the rock

Scharzfels Castle is situated on a montain ridge 150 metres above the Oder valley. It was considered unconquerable in the Middle Ages (in fact, it took until the 18th century for it to be partly destroyed), due to the fact the inner bailey was constructed on a 20 metres high dolomite rock with steep sides.

Looking from the entrance tunnel into the yard

It is this eagle nest situation which makes the Scharzfels interesting. There is not much left of the buildings (there had been at least a keep and a palas with a hall and living quarters) and walls, but the remains and the caves in the dolomite rock are a lot of fun to explore and make for some nice photos.

One of the caves

Nothing is left of the outer bailey (Vorburg in German) except the well house. A staircase from the 19th century leads to the inner bailey (Oberburg), surely an easier access than what may have been there in the Middle Ages. The plateau on top of the dolomite rock is 20x60 metres with several natural and man made caves, thought not as many as the Regenstein. The stone buildings had been erected on the rock or built into crevices. Only some ruins of those remain today.

View to one of the tower foundations and the Harz foothills beyond

The Scharzfels, as it is usually called, played a more important role in history since 1131, when Emperor Lothar of Süpplingenburg got the castle by exchanges of land and made it into what is called a Reichsfeste - a castle belonging directly to the emperor. Lothar gave the castle as imperial fief to Siegebodo Count of Lauterberg-Scharzfels.

Natural rock and a few ruins

In 1157, Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa gave Heinrich the Lion got some lands in the Harz, including Scharzfels Castle as reward, perhaps because Heinrich had saved Friedrich's life during the riots in Rome. But when Heinrich fell out of grace, rebelled and lost the war against the emperor, he had to return those possessions, and Scharzfels Castle came back to the counts of Lauterberg-Scharzfels.

View from the corner tower to the remains of the palas with a firpelace

After the Scharzfels family died out, the fief fell to the Counts of Hohnstein. In 1596, Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (there's some German names for you, lol), a member of the House Welfen inherited the castle, so in a way it came back to the family of Heinrich the Lion.

The dolomite rock from the other side

The trees got a bit in the way of a good picture of the backside of the dolomite rock. There were some freeclimbers around, and they managed to get on top quite easily. But they were not an army, and not clad in mail and dragging swords and spears around. Plus, whoever tried to attack Scharzfels first had to get up the hill, and I'm sure the castle garrison had some fun ideas how to deal with assailants. The worst I had to deal with was a pebble that had found its way into my sandal.
 


19.8.09
  A Summer Afternoon in Germany

The weather is fine these days albeit a bit on the hot side (at least for me who thinks anything above 25°C is what hell must be like). So my father and I decided to take a little tour down to the Weser, one of our favourite areas. We found a few things on the way.

-- A pink palace for Alianore:

Welfenschloss, Hann.-Münden

This pretty building is the Welfenschloss in Hannoversch-Münden, built by Duke Erich II of Calenberg-Göttingen in 1560 in the style of the so called Weser Renaissance. It was a residental palace used for living, but also provided rooms for the administration of the area. In later generations its importance as ducal seat decreased, and in 1849 the south wing burned down. Today it houses the town library, a museum, and the tax office.

-- A Renaissance style town hall:

Town Hall, Hann.-Münden

The town hall itself dates back to the Gothic style, but in 1618 a Renaissance facade had been added with a number of decorative elements, among them as set of chimes that show figures from the life of the (in)famous Doctor Eisenbarth.

-- Beautiful haf timbered houses:

Half timbered houses in Hann.-Münden

Hannoversch-Münden has about 700 of them and all in a fine condition. The town with the odd name it got to distinguish Münden from Minden (which is not far away) lies at the confluence of Werra and Fulda, and because of this favourable situation was an important trade centre in the Middle Ages. Remains of the Medieaval fortifications and the old harbour, the Schlagd, can still be seen.

-- Three Rivers in one pic:

Confluence of Fulda (left) and Werra (right), forming the Weser (ahead)

Not an unknown village from Wheel of Times, but the result of a name change. Linguistically, Werra and Weser are the same name that just changed with the dialects spoken at its shores. Since the Fulda which confluences into the Werra/Weser is a river of equal size, this point officially marks the name change from Werra to Weser for several centuries now, and it's the reason Hann.-Münden calls itself the 'town of the three rivers':

-- Pointy Roman things

Roman catapult bolts

There is an exhibition of the Hedemünden finds in the Welfenschloss. I had seen some of them a few years ago, but this exhibition has added the new finds and a model of the supply fort and the marching camp at Hedemünden. A well made display, though the glass makes it a bit difficult to get good shots due to all those reflections.

-- A castle in the woods:

Bramburg, the keep

The remains of the Bramburg are hidden in a beech wood on a promontory above the Weser. It was first mentionend 1093 but must have been older. Heinrich the Fat, the founder of Bursfelde Abbey, had the castle fortified in order to protect the nearby abbey. Later it came as fief to a family von Stockhausen that proved prone to highway and high river robbery. Thus the Bramburg was besieged by Landgrave Wilhelm of Thuringia and partly destroyed. Today only the keep remains, and it's really well hidden in all that lush green.

-- A beautiful view:

View from the Bramburg down to the Weser river

I think you'l understand why we love the Weser surroundings so much.

On the way back we had dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, the one in Bursfelde. It has a terrace facing the Weser; the most beautiful place so sit on a peaceful summer evening.
 


13.8.09
  Mull - From Craignure to Fionnphort

I managed to take some photos from the bus though it was tricky. The best chances were when the bus had to stop to let a car pass on the single track road. The bus tour takes about an hour and goes through some of the most scenic parts of Mull.

Glen More

In the morning, the weather was pretty bad - typical Scottish, people say, though my experiences included a lot of sunshine both times I went to Scotland. There are eagles in Glen More, but they must have kept elevenses; we didn't see any. That's a Swiss bus in front of us.

The sea near Fionnphort

Fionnphort is the harbour for the ferries to Iona and the boat cruises to Staffa. No tourist cars are allowed on Iona, so you have to leave it in the parking lot - that goes for busses as well. Yes, tourists in Scotland are expected to walk. *gasp*

Entrance to Loch Scridain

On the way back the sun had come out (it had be shining all afternoon on Iona) and I kept my camera ready to get some shots of the beautiful Mull scenery in the evening sun.

Loch Scridain

I was rewarded. The way along Loch Scridain was especially picturesque, and I had picked the right (in fact, left, lol) side to sit. It was the wrong side for watching the deer, though, but since we have our share of deer in Germany, I didn't mind.

Loch Scridain with Ben More in the background

The tricky thing about taking photos from a bus is not only the motion but also the reflections in the windows. But as you see, I got a few pictures where those reflections aren't too bad.
 


9.8.09
  Dunstaffnage Castle - An Ancient MacDougall Stronghold

Dunstaffnage Castle stands on a rock promontory where Loch Etive meets the Firth of Lorn, thus guarding the entrance into central Scotland via Loch Etive and the Pass of Brander. The promontory also shelters Dunstaffnage Bay from the westerly winds and provides a good harbour.

The castle looks forbidding from the outside, but it's actually a nice place to visit on a sunny summer afternoon. And because someone is bound to ask - yes, there was a plotbunny hiding in the entrance archway. :)

Dunstaffnage Castle

The rock foundation and castle walls rise to 15 metres and more, with the entrance several metres above ground. In former times, the way between the outer staircase and the gates was additionally protected by a drawbridge. Definitely not an easy place to get into back in the Middle Ages. Today you only need to pay your fee in the house outside the castle, ascend the stairs and cross a solid wooden bridge, without danger of someone shooting arrows at you from the - now completely ruined - corner tower.

Dunstaffnage, entrance

Dunstaffnage, bearing a name part Gaelic (dun = fort) part Norse (stafr-nes = staff promontory), is one of the candidates for the Dalriatan seat of Dun Monaidh, albeit no archaeological proof has been found so far. In 840, Cináed mac Alpín 'united' (I doubt the Picts saw it that way) the Dalriatans and Picts and moved the centre of power to central Scotland, leaving a vacuum at the west coast into which the Vikings stepped. Their rule over the west coast was officially acknowledged in the treaty between King Edgar of Scotland and King Magnus 'Barelegs' of Norway in 1098.

Battlements

But the local élites didn't really care for one king or the other, and in mid-12th century a man of mixed Gaelic/Norse descent ruled more or less independently: Somarled or Somhairle, King of the Isles as he called himself. His son Dougall became the founder of clan MacDougall. He inherited the mainland of Lorn along with the islands of Jura, Coll, Mull, Tiree, Kerrera, and Lismore after his father's death at the battle of Renfrew 1164. His Gaelic name Dubhgall means something like Dark Foreigner, implying his part-Norse blood. His brother Ranald (Reginald) inherited the possessions in Skye (after he killed his brother Angus), Islay and Kintyre - as far as I can make sense of the mess of contradictory information. Ranald's son Donald woud become the eponymous founder of Clan MacDonald

Battlements, view to the west tower
The water in the distance in the Firth of Lorn

Dougall's son Duncan built Dunstaffnage Castle around 1220, and probably Dunollie Castle as well. He sided with King Hakon of Norway against King Alexander II of the Scots in 1230, conquering Rothesay Castle from Walter Stewart, but in 1237 seemed to have made his peace with Alexander. He was the only noble from the west coast to sign a document sent by King Alexander to the pope - he signed it as de Ergadia (from Argyll). Besides the castles at the coast he also founded Ardchattan Priory in 1240.

Remains of the 'new house', built in 1725

His son Ewan who succeeded Duncan in 1248 was in a nice pickle since he held his island possessions under Hakon of Norway after a visit to Bergen during which he also got granted the title King of the Isles, and the mainland territories as vassal of King Alexander II. After Ewan was also appointed to step in for the deceased king of Man, Alexander had enough of the Norse power concentration on the isles and sailed west with an army, landing on Kerrera. He demanded that Ewan surrender several castles to him, among them most probably Dunstaffnage which Ewan had further fortified (he added the west tower). But Ewan told him he'd already done hommage for the those lands to Hakon. "No man can serve two masters," said King Alexander. "One can quite well serve two masters provided the masters are not enemies," was Ewan's reply. It's probably well for him that King Alexander II died of an illness soon thereafter (July 8, 1249) or he would have been in trouble.

View from the battlements over Loch Etive

For several years, the stalemate continued until Alexander III reached majority, told his advisors to go fishing and began his reign. His activities on the west coast soon forced Hakon to bring in a large fleet. He too, landed on Kerrera and detained Ewan as 'guest' in hope to pressure him for support. But Ewan must have had a stubborn streak because he refused Hakon's demand as well. King Hakon then lost the battle of Largs in 1263 and part of his fleet in the autumn gales, and withdrew to the Orkneys where he died the same year. Negotiations between King Alexander III and Hakon's successor King Magnus took another two years. During that time Ewan proved sly as well because he seemed to have simply outwaited the results before deciding for one side.

Dunstaffnage Castle, seen from the way to the chapel

The ensuing Treaty of Perth in 1266 transferred the Hebridean islands from Norway to Scotland. Ewan had his possessions restored (if he ever lost any of them in the first place; the sources are none too clear) though the title King of the Isles went to the MacDonald branch of Somhairle's descendants. Ewan clearly sided with the King of the Scots now, marrying his children into major Scottish families. His son Alexander Lord of Lorn would become one of the chief powers in the west. Ewan mac Dougall died in 1266.

Information: Historic Scotland guidebook to Dunstaffnage Castle and the website of Clan MacDougall.

Continued with the Wars of Independence and The Campbells.
 


4.8.09
  West Highland Line Impressions

This one can probably called a pic spam post, lol. Just some photos I took on the train from Glasgow to Oban. I'm very busy writing right now and too lazy to do a long post.

A train of the West Highland Line

The West Highland railway line is considered one of the most scenic in the world. It goes from Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig, with a side line branching off to Oban at Crianlarich.

Highland mountains

Ten years ago I took the route all the way to Fort William and a few days later to Mallaig to cross over to Skye. This time I rode the train to Oban, and kept holding the camera out of the doors at interesting stops on the way.

And look, more mountains

The mix of sun and clouds made for an interesting light in some photos. But the day was rather warm and nice overall.

The train stopped in Crianlarich for a few minutes and I could step out on the platform and take photographs of the surroundings.

Mountains rising behind Crianlarich station

Crianlarich is truly in the Highlands, surrounded by high mountains. But the official beginning of the West Higland Line after it leaves Glasgow's suburbs is 'Arrochar and Tarbet' at the entrance to the famous Loch Lomond.

Sun and shadows

It was very difficult to get good photos out of the moving train, but I was lucky that a few turned out to be not too blurred.

Loch Awe

The train runs along most of Loch Awe, opening one spectacular view after the other before it passes along the Falls of Cruachan into Oban.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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